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It Takes a Village to Raise a Home Performance Industry

Posted by Charley Cormany, EFCA Executive Director

Home performance is a difficult business for many reasons. As a general contractor, there is a pretty well-defined path to follow to get to an end product. Yes, there are variations, but there is enough consistency that with experienced sub-contractors the process can be handed down from one generation to the next. Home performance is much less defined, as is often the case with emerging industries.

There’s Not One Business Model

How do you determine which home performance approach works best for your business model? There are multiple factors that might influence your decision. Regional climate, housing type and age, utility rates, household income–all of these factors will shape your business model. Technical solutions will play a part as well: what works on the Coast is different than what’s effective in Lake Tahoe. The point is that there is not a well-defined business model for home performance contractors, especially in California. The process of exploring which solutions work for your company is no small feat, and can be very expensive.

The Best Advice Comes from Other Contractors

One way to make the process easier is by having conversations with others and learning from their mistakes. One of the best resources for anyone in this business is other contractors. Many home performance contractors will openly share their vast knowledge and ask nothing in return, simply to further growth in the industry.

There are some pretty amazing companies in this space who regularly incorporate new technologies and approaches into their own projects. These companies have a passion for the industry and are constantly pushing the limits of what can be achieved. In reality, their jobs are half business and half research and development. When presented with the opportunity, they are more than willing to share their experiences, good and bad. These pioneers will tell you how expensive new technologies can be, especially when things don’t go as planned. The information gained from a conversation with one of these folks is priceless.

Your local peers are another great resource. Sharing information amongst other like-minded folks is very powerful. When I was a contractor I enjoyed going to EFCA chapter meetings to find out what was happening in the industry and for the sense of camaraderie. The meetings usually started with an update on the status of the industry in general. The conversations then touched on the home upgrade programs and what “the powers that be” are doing at the state level. These talks were followed by a big picture discussion about where the industry was headed. My favorite part of chapter meetings was the last portion called “Nuts and Bolts”. This was where fellow contractors discussed their real world experiences and shared information on the more technical side of things.

What Stopped Working

For a period of time, we supported NorCal and SoCal forums. These started off as conference calls between program administrators at Energy Upgrade California and contractors with the intent to resolve problems. They were effective at first, but as time went on the forums morphed into yet another webinar presentation with much less conversation. Eventually,contractor participation dropped off; the calls essentially became a benefit for the program administrators and not contractors. Shortly after I took over as Executive Director I let the forums die. We have limited resources and I can’t justify using them to support efforts that do not directly benefit contractors.

Participation in our physical chapter meetings has also eroded. I suspect some if this is due to the fact that most folks are pretty busy working these days. It seems there is no shortage of work for most contractors.

New Virtual Chapter Meetings

In response to the decline in chapter participation, we have been experimenting with a new idea that we call a “Virtual Chapter.” Currently, we have one running in Northern California and are trying to get some traction in Southern California, and we are open to starting in other regions as well.

The Virtual Chapter idea is pretty simple. We follow a format similar to traditional chapter meetings. This includes industry updates, open conversation to hear contractors’ concerns, and the “Nuts and Bolts” segment. The difference is we are joining together via computers, versus driving to a physical location. The format is very casual and participants are encouraged to express their concerns and opinions. The meetings are held once a month, later in the day, usually between 5:00 and 6:30 p.m. We still try to meet in person on occasion, perhaps once or twice a year, as there is no substitute for sitting face to face. If you would like to be involved in one of our virtual chapters please let us know and we will see that you are added to the list.

Regional Contractor-Only Meetings

We also recently held a contractors meeting in Los Angeles. The idea was to provide a chance for members to sit down face to face with the Executive Director and share their concerns. This is a big state and the industry has challenges across the board. We intend to have more of these meetings across the state as we want to make sure we are representing every perspective in our advocacy efforts.

We Want to Help Raise a Home Performance Community

One of our goals is to provide a sense of community for our members. In fact, we want you to use us as a resource and take advantage of the brain trust we represent. Our goal is to support contractors and help them be successful in their businesses.

We send out a monthly newsletter to keep you better informed and remind you of upcoming events. We are constantly adding new information to our blog, with a wide range of articles related to the home performance industry and business practices in general. We are interested in blog posts from our members as well. Do you have something you would like to contribute? Send us a draft and we can help make it into a blog post.

We are also currently building a resource center on our website. The idea is to provide a library of information for home performance contractors. This resource will have articles, reports, studies, and videos related to the industry. If you have something you would like to share we are open to that as well. We are always looking for new information. Our hope is this resource will become a centralized location for a variety of information related to the industry.

We feel we have a unique role in this industry. Supporting contractors is our primary mission. To back up this claim we encourage you to contact us when you are facing challenges or looking for answers. Believe it or not, we have staff available by phone who can help. Have a business question, give us a call. Looking for some technical details, give us a call. Looking for some input on an idea you are considering, give us a call. It might seem trivial to some, but we feel having the option to pick up the phone and talk to a human is a benefit these days. Although we can’t guarantee that we will know the exact answer you’re looking for when you call, chances are we can connect you to someone who does. Our list of people in the industry is pretty extensive.

We Need Your Help, Get Involved

I sincerely believe that the value of participating in a trade organization, such as Efficiency First, is the information exchange. Sharing information amongst members builds a sense of community and brings everyone up a notch. Join the conversation and tap into the experience of others. Participate in a Virtual Chapter meeting, attend our contractor-only meetings, use the resource library, read and contribute to our blog, and most of all call us if there is something you need help with. You are not alone, and we want to be there to provide you with the benefits of being part of a larger community.

One thing to consider is the benefits you receive as a member are directly related to your participation. Get involved, share your perspective, and let us know how we can better serve you and our other members.

Charles Cormany
Executive Director
Efficiency First California

Image from iStock.